A snapshot of my work in progress – Daughter of Hanoi

After posting about my writing goals on Monday (thanks to everyone that has dropped by to read it), I wanted to start sharing some of the stories behind the book I am currently working on. Thew working title is Daughter of Hanoi, although I have no doubt that will change.

About halfway through last year, I had a great idea for another book. (I should say straight up that it feels a little fraudulent to talk about my second book when my first book is still only 90,000 draft words that haven’t even had the first edit.) This was quite exciting as one of the things that had stopped me from writing in the past was the belief that I didn’t have any good ideas. I was still trying to finish the book I had started during Nanowrimo 2017 but this new idea was so tempting. But I listened to the advice from many experienced writers about finishing my first draft first. I wrote down as much as I could about this new idea and then went back to finishing the first draft. I was actually a great motivator to get the first draft done and when Nanowrimo started on 1 November, I was excited to be let loose on my story.

Sarah is 35 and a political journalist in the Canberra press gallery. The book starts with Sarah coming home to Broken Hill after the break-up of her relationship with a married politician. She finds her father collapsed on the lounge clutching a photo of himself, with a young Vietnamese woman and a baby. Tony is actually being treated for cancer, which Sarah did not know. But this is not the biggest shock. Sarah learns that the woman in the picture is her mother and that she was born in Hanoi when Tony was a diplomat.

Sarah has been brought up by Tony in Broken Hill where he reinvented himself as an artist. Growing up as part of the artist community, Sarah has never really wondered about her mother but Tony explains her mother has recently been in contact and Sarah agrees to go to Hanoi to meet her while Tony finishes his treatment in Australia.

The idea for this story came from listening to a colleague in Hanoi talk about courting his wife during the 80s by cycling around Hoan Kiem lake in Hanoi. He was one of the first foreigners to be allowed to marry in Hanoi at that time. I liked the idea of Sarah going to Hanoi to uncover more of her father’s story and also learning about Vietnam’s culture and history.

Hoan Kiem lake Hanoi

While my posting to Hanoi from 2011-2014 would ultimately mark the end of my diplomatic career, it was a fantastic opportunity and a very special place to live. I still wonder how we survived that first year though – we arrived with a two-year-old and a three and a half-month-old, and after a few weeks language training (to consolidate the year of training I had in Australia), started a job that often involved 10 hour days and lots of travel.

For me, setting a book in Hanoi is an opportunity to relive some of our 3.5 years there. As I write, I get to ‘visit’ my favourite cafes and restaurants. I hadn’t planned for Sarah to end up in Hoi An but I was struggling as to where the story would go once she realised the guy she was seeing was her half-brother – who is not happy learning about a secret half-sister and all but chases her out of Hanoi. Hoi An, with its beautiful beaches and old town, was our happy place in Vietnam and the place we would escape from the pollution of Hanoi and the stress of my job at the Australian Embassy.

Lane 76 – our home for most of Hanoi posting

I have now been working on it for a bit over two months (although probably only about a month of solid writing) and I am about a third of the way through. Given things are likely to change significantly over the course of writing and editing this book, it is probably not too much of a spoiler to say Sarah travels to Hanoi, visits many of the places Tony and her mother Bich had taken her as a baby (Tony has kept a suitcase hidden of photos and things from Hanoi), meets her mother (who is now a senior government minister) and meets Hai, who she has a brief flirtation with until learning he is her half-brother and escapes Hanoi to Hoi An in the centre of Vietnam with Ben, the much younger son of her father’s old friend Tom. This is where the story is at the moment, with Sarah working at an orphanage, having decided to stay in Vietnam until Tony visits in a few months time.

Riverside in the old town in Hoi An

Unlike my first book, I did not have a plan for how this story would play out. I had an idea and in starting to write, I decided I would write in a more linear fashion (rather than dipping in and out of scenes as I had with my first draft) and I would see where the story went. I am not entirely sure where the story will end up, but I would like her to have a relationship with her mother, without trying to have too much of an ‘everyone lives happily ever after’ type ending.

In 2016, my first Nanowrimo attempt was a memoir of our time in Vietnam, drawing also on a diary I kept during my first visit there in 2003. In telling Sarah’s story, I am drawing on a lot of this information to explore some of the things about Vietnam that I find most interesting – from the role of women and the importance of the extended family unit to the way that Vietnam’s long and often turbulent history informs people’s behaviours. And of course, there is the amazing food, architecture, coffee and landscapes. We were last there for a 10-day visit in mid-2016 and as I write, I am finding myself becoming quite homesick. Of course, one of the key reasons for writing about Vietnam is knowing that if there is a chance of this story ever being published, I will need at least one research visit.

Iced egg coffee at the Hidden Cafe

In the coming weeks, I will update you on the story and I’ll also post about some of my favourite places in Vietnam, my favourite foods and places to shop, the history and holidays and my favourite books about Vietnam.

Have you been to Vietnam? Have you read any good books based in Vietnam?

Rolling with tradition

The Tanunda Kegel Barn – the oldest wooden kegel barn in the Southern Hemisphere

It’s almost 8pm on Day 3 of my 24 days until Christmas writing challenge and this is the first chance I have had to sit down and write today.

For the first time in ages last night, I was back at the Tanunda Kegel Club for the Ladies night. Kegel is a little like ten-pin bowling but using 9 pins and a very long narrow alley. It’s a game that was brought out by some of the original German settlers and the Tanunda Kegel Club is the only wooden kegel barn in the South Hemisphere. (You can watch a video about it here). The original barn was started in 1858 and some of the pins and balls are the original wooden balls. Many school groups visit, especially German schools from around Australia and overseas visitors, like the Barossa China Wine School group are treated to a night in the Kegel Barn as a unique Barossa tradition.


Women weren’t allowed to play until the 70s but now a group of us “roll” on Wednesday night with a mixed group playing on Fridays. It’s a chance for a laugh and a catch-up, usually accompanied by wine and some food. Last night we ate Chinese dumplings – true multicultural Australia.

The scoring system is fairly complex and each player rolls 3 times per turn, one of which has to be an old wooden ball (the others are regular bowling balls). There are loads of different techniques and styles but the old wooden track certainly makes for some challenging bowling. It definitely changes after periods of wet weather too!

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Unlike the modern Kegel clubs in Germany, a pinsetter is still required to re-set the pins after each roll and send the balls back down.

As you can see from my scores, I am definitely still a beginner but I love being a part of something that has been going in Tanunda for over 150 years (and it gets written up in the local paper). It’s also funny that the Barossa Living magazine we picked up in Sydney soon after arriving back in Australia that inspired our move to the Barossa also featured the ladies kegel players on the cover. Certainly can’t say I expected to join them but definitely glad I have!


First match report in the local paper – a “pudel” is a gutter ball


A day of wine tasting in the Barossa

Two Hands Wines
Two Hands Wines

One of the advantages of not having a full-time job is being able to make the most of the opportunities when they come along. So when the opportunity arose to help a friend out by playing chauffeur last week, I jumped at the chance. The guest was Kamal Malik, the Head Sommelier from the Conrad Resort in the Maldives. Kamal was in Australia as the guest of Teusner Wines, as he was the winner of the Hilton Hotel Group’s South East Asia Sommelier Cup, which Teusner had sponsored. I met Kamal on his last day in the Barossa, picking him up in one of the big black Teusner utes (a definite highlight for this city girl who has only recently moved to the country). On the way to our first stop, I learned that Kamal had started in hospitality and after being assigned to the bar in the hotel he was working, decided that wine was more interesting than cocktails and decided to make a career of it. After several years in India, he moved to the Maldives where he has been for about 9 years, the last 4 with the Hilton.

The bakehouse
The bakehouse

Our first stop was Two Hands Wines in Marananga, one the prettiest villages in the Barossa. We were met by Daniel Hill, who recently joined the Two Hands marketing team. Daniel showed us around the winery before taking us up to the old bake house for a private tasting. The cellar door is in a beautiful old farmhouse and the bake house was apparently where the locals all came to bake their bread. The bake house also has a glass floor so you can look down into the cellar of back vintages below. Being the designated driver, I enjoyed a coffee while Kamal tasted, although I did taste a couple of the Flagship wines as I figured this was a special opportunity. While Shiraz is definitely the focus (including single region wines from six different regions and single vineyard wines), we were able to try a yet to be released white from the Flagship series as well as a Rare Muscat in one of the coolest bottles I have seen.

A few of the wines tasted at Two Hands
A few of the wines tasted at Two Hands

After Two Hands, we drove over to Langmeil, which is literally around the corner from home and was the first Barossa winery I visited on my first visit to the Barossa in 2007. We met Cellar Door manager Jonathan for a tour around part of the vineyard. We started in the blacksmiths forge and I learned that my street is named Christian Auricht. He was a blacksmith and founded the village of Langmeil in 1842. The other old buildings on the property were home to the butcher, baker and cobblers shop and I learned that Langmeil Road was actually the main street. The original “Freedom” vines were planted in 1843, and is believed to be one of the oldest surviving Shiraz vineyards in the world.

Kamal in the old blacksmith's forge
Kamal in the old blacksmith’s forge
The Freedom Vineyard at Langmeil
The Freedom Vineyard at Langmeil

I was also excited to hear about the Orphan Bank vineyard. Vines planted in 1860 were transplanted from what is now the Langmeil housing estate (where I live) in 2006 and replanted on the Langmeil site. We were also lucky to see the new underground cellar being built in the old water tank. A local carpenter has built a beautiful circular rack around the walls and the wheel from an old machine for crushing grapes has been transformed into a stunning light fitting.

Underground cellar at Langmeil
Underground cellar at Langmeil

After our tour and history lesson, we escaped into the warmth of the cellar door for a platter of Barossa produce (including mettwurst from Steinys and cheese from the Barossa Cheese Company ) and a tasting. While Kamal was taken through an extensive tasting, I limited myself a taste of the Sparkling Shiraz (such a Barossa specialty and often referred to as Barossa Berocca), and the Valley Floor, Orphan Bank and Freedom Shiraz. The history buff in me loved that I was trying wines from such old vines, and while they don’t necessarily make better wines, the history behind them does make them very special.

A fantastic line-up of Barossa Shiraz at Langmeil
A fantastic line-up of Barossa Shiraz at Langmeil

Our final stop was Rockford Wines. I have driven past several times, but hadn’t been in to visit. We were met by Operations Manager David who gave us a brief history of Rockford as we enjoyed the afternoon sunshine in the courtyard.

Courtyard at Rockford Wines
Courtyard at Rockford Wines

In 1971, winemaker Robert O’Callaghan purchased the property and set about collecting various bits of machinery and old granite tanks and set up a winery that David told us was described by a journalist at the time as “a new 100-year-old winery”. It really did look like a museum, with a small window that grapes are hand loaded in through, the old crusher (the wheel of which was the same as the one now part of the light fitting at Langmeil), granite tanks and the iconic basket presses. All the reds are made on-site and I am definitely going to visit next year during vintage. There were so many great stories and things to see – from the new basket presses made by a customer who became a friend that are now exported around the world, to the very old solera storing fortified wine and the impressive barrel stacks.

Basket press at Rockford
Basket press at Rockford
The crusher at Rockford - with the same wheel we had seen as at high fitting at Langmeil
The crusher at Rockford – with the same wheel we had seen as at high fitting at Langmeil

After soaking in the history and stories, we went up to the Stonewall Tasting Room. Being the last stop for the day, I tasted more than I had at Two Hands and Langmeil, but I did work on the art of elegantly spitting. I tasted my first 2015 Vintage – the White Frontignac that had been released that day. I really enjoyed it, probably as it was quite light and zippy and at about 8.5 per cent, I could see it becoming a summer favourite. The Riesling and Semillon were also great and it was interesting to try the Alicante Bouchet – which looks like a rosé but is actually a red-fleshed grape. The Sparkling Shiraz was the first Rockford wine I had tried on my first visit to Adelaide in 2000, so of course I had to taste, and I would have to agree with it being seen as one of the benchmark wines of its type in the region. A tasting at Rockford wouldn’t be complete without tasting the Basket Press Shiraz, which was very enjoyable too. Finally, after managing to taste and spit without embarrassing myself, we finished with the 2005 Shiraz VP, a fortified wine that is made from a friend’s family vineyard before we farewelled Kamal who headed off to Adelaide, while I returned the ute back to Teusner.

Rockford's Black Shiraz
Rockford’s Black Shiraz
2015 White Frontignac - my first 2015 vintage wine
2015 White Frontignac – my first 2015 vintage wine

It’s probably fairly obvious that I am no expert when it comes to wine – I can pick varieties, I can usually pick a couple of key flavours and I can tell if a wine is from an older vintage, but mostly, I either like it or not. I think the thing I enjoy most about wine tasting is the stories behind the wine. Apart from having the chance to taste some pretty special wine, I really enjoyed seeing the diversity in the wine industry in the Barossa. There is such a range of wineries – from large-scale big name brands to small batch producers, wineries with long histories and new players – and something I realised was that they are all important and all have a role to play in ensuring the longevity of the industry and the region. The other thing I have come to appreciate the longer I am here is the importance of the grower. I think before I moved here, I thought of most wineries owning and working their own vineyards, but the reality is, the region is made up of hundreds of growers and vineyards, many of which have been in the same family for generations. In some ways, they are the unsung heroes, perhaps overshadowed (at least in the average wine drinker’s mind) by the brands and big name wine makers. One of the great things about living here has been meeting the grape growers and seeing that at least in this part of the world, they aren’t just faceless or nameless farmers but an integral part of the winemaking life of the Barossa.

With a husband that works at a tasting room (Artisans of Barossa, which is a group of 7 like-minded wineries, including Teusner), we probably haven’t done as much wine tasting here as I would like. So after my day out with Kamal, I’m going to aim to go and visit a new spot every couple of weeks, if only just to learn more about the history of the Barossa and the importance of winemaking to the region.

View from the deck at Artisans of Barossa
View from the deck at Artisans of Barossa

I’ve included a link to all the wineries we visited in the blog, but you can also visit Barossa.com or Barossa Dirt to learn more about wine in the Barossa.